Bovine TB climbs by 13% despite badger massacre

Bovine TB has increased by 13% in just one year in the Republic of Ireland[1], despite the most sustained programme of badger extermination ever undertaken in Western Europe, the Badger Trust revealed today. Yet in Northern Ireland, where no badgers are being killed, the disease continues to decline.

Britain's National Farmers Union is expected to demand badger culling in England and Wales as it begins its annual conference at the luxury Hilton Metropole hotel in London today.

But the Badger Trust has learned that Irish agriculture minister Mary Coughlan has told the Irish Farmers Association that the increase is "significant" and "unexplained". Even though the increase in outbreaks will be costing Irish tax payers dear, the minister has not published the information or issued a press statement.

Trevor Lawson, for the Badger Trust, commented:

"This increase in TB in Ireland cannot be blamed on badgers. The Irish Government is setting 6,000 snares for badgers every night, but barely catching 6,000 badgers a year because they are now so scarce.

By strangling badgers, the Irish Government was supposed to be eradicating bovine TB, yet the disease has been static for years and is now on the rise. Badgers are a scapegoat for reckless farming practices which encourage the spread of TB between herds."

The Badger Trust points out that in Northern Ireland herd incidence of TB fell from 6.23% in 2006 to 5.23% in 2007[2]. This is the fifth consecutive annual decrease, with the proportion of affected herds having been virtually halved since 2002.

No badgers are culled in Northern Ireland. Instead, the Department for Agriculture Northern Ireland has invested in a very capable IT system for tracking cattle movements. And when it clamped down on TB testing breaches in November 2004, the number of overdue tests fell by 90%, from 3,500 overdue tests a month to just 350.

In Northern Ireland, vets acknowledge that even the legitimate movement of cattle between the scattered fields of farm holdings provides "enormous potential for farm to farm spread"[3] and prevents the eradication of bovine TB. Other mitigating factors are cited as the "high rate of cattle movements and limitations associated with the [TB] test and its execution".

Trevor Lawson added: "Mary Coughlan will have a hard time explaining the rise in bovine TB now that she has succeeded in virtually exterminating badgers across their most important habitats in the Republic of Ireland. The comparison between polices in Northern Ireland and the Republic underlines that the bovine TB problem is a cattle problem. Killing badgers is a grotesque and senseless exercise and it is imperative that Defra Secretary of State Hilary Benn repels the culling demands of the NFU this week."


For further comment, contact Trevor Lawson on 00447976 262388.

1. Data provided by the Republic of Ireland Department for Agriculture on 15 February 2008:

Year No of herds No of TB reactors

2003 - 23,000*

2004 - 24,000*

2005 123,322 25,884

2006 122,392 24,173

2007 120,654 27,703

* Badger Trust estimates derived from graph in More, S.J. and M.

Good, The tuberculosis eradication programme in Ireland: A review of scientific and policy advances since 1988. Veterinary Microbiology, 2006. 112(2-4): p. 239-251.


3. DARDNI, Tuberculosis staff instructions. 2007(v.11): p. 10.

Badger Trust
(formerly National Federation of Badger Groups, NFBG)
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SW11 3EP
Tel: 0207 228 6444
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